The White House recently released the nation's first paperless budget.

The format of the arcane document is usually little noticed beyond Capitol Hill. But the first U.S. e-budget has been heralded by both the mainstream media and tree-hugging Web sites/blogs.

There's good reason for the hoopla: The Office of Management and Budget estimates that this year's 2,200-page paperless budget will save 20 tons of paper (about 480 trees). Financial considerations are also a factor; over the next five years, the annual e-budget will save taxpayers close to $1 million.

Don't let the government have all the fun: Going paperless at home can help both the environment and your wallet.

Here are the benefits:

Help the Environment

Making paper uses a lot of water, a lot of trees and a lot of chemicals. The process also releases some nasty compounds into our air and rivers, including cancer-causing dioxins. So by reducing our need for paper, we can make the environment a little bit cleaner.

The typical U.S. household sent or received an average of 26 bills, statements and checks per month in 2006, according to a 2007 report by Javelin Strategy and Research. If every U.S. household switched from paper billing to viewing and paying bills online, the environmental benefits would be significant.

Each year, this switch would:

  • Save 16.5 million trees (2.3 million tons of wood).

  • Decrease emission of greenhouse gasses by 3.9 billion pounds, the equivalent of taking 355,000 cars off the road.

  • Reduce fuel consumption by 26 million BTUs, enough energy to provide residential power to San Francisco for a year.

Decrease Clutter

Going paperless provides a fantastic opportunity to organize the paper that's currently cluttering your home office and kitchen counters. To get rid of paper documents, you'll first make electronic versions of them. The process requires an initial investment of time, but in the long run your documents will be easier to find. What's more, you'll eliminate clutter, which can save you time on a daily basis.

Gain Security

A paperless lifestyle involves a lot of backups. You can save documents on your computer hard drive, an external hard drive, removable media such as CDs or DVDs, or an online data storage center such as Mozy or .mac . Many people who go paperless also store additional backups with out-of-state family members.

So if disaster strikes, you'll have a better chance of recovering paperless documents than their paper counterparts.

Kelsey Abbott is a free-lance writer in Freeport, Maine.

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